Recently a friend asked the following question: what to cook for a man who was invited to dinner. Aforementioned dinner was explicitly pitched as being not-a-date, however my friend was hoping that a not-a-date dinner would provide an opportunity to demonstrate that she is in fact highly date-able (and by the way, she is). Her quandary highlights a basic human truth that will outrage many in this post-feminist era: men get turned on by good food and therefore if you can cook a good meal for a man then the chances are reasonably high that he will be at least a little bit turned on by you.
(Disclaimer: I make the above comment as a reflection of my experiences as heterosexual woman who can cook. I imagine the condition is universal and can be applied to any combination of human relationships.)
The quandary is a difficult one and it reminds me of a scene in the movie High Fidelity when the protagonist is talking about the rules of making a mixed tape. You want to go out strong, but you don’t want to blow your wad too early because on the second track you’re going to need to take it up a notch. And then you’re going to need to cool it off a little, but not too much. When cooking a meal to impress romantically, you need to deliver something impressive but not so grandiose that you look desperate to impress. It needs to hook him in and leave him wanting more. And you need to be able to exceed expectations on the second time out.
What might such a dish be? Well it’s obviously a highly personal thing and there’s no hard and fast rules. You need to cook in your comfort zone. Your culinary comfort zone is the food you keep coming back to, the recipes and flavours that you understand. Cook within your zone and no matter what you make it will be tasty and, more importantly, it will come from inside you. And for those of you in established relationships, do not underestimate the power of food to kindle someone’s passion. The way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach: it’s through his lips, tongue, taste buds and loins. Food brings pleasure, and to provide pure pleasure to a person is the most wonderful thing you can do for your relationship.
I have been in a relationship for more than 20 years and I have absolutely no doubt that food has been an important romantic ally. I know damn well what I’m doing when I plate up certain foods and I know what effect it will have. I use it to regular advantage. As my friend pointed out, I evidently have some sort of past life association with South East Asia which gives me the ability to bang out completely bitching dishes from the region. With a husband who has Chinese Malaysian heritage, this can only be beneficial. And so I offer up to you now one of the most currently powerful weapons in my romantic arsenal: beef rendang. May you use it wisely and well.
- 1 litre coconut milk
- 1 1/2 tsps salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup of kerisik (dessicated coconut toasted until dark golden and then pounded into a rough paste)
- 2 stems of lemon grass, white parts only, bruised
- I small tbsp tamarind purée
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- 600 gms – 1 kg chuck steak, cut into a large dice
For the curry paste
- 12 dried chillies, roughly chopped and soaked to soften
- 8 shallots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 cm knob of galangal, chopped or minced
- 2 cm knob of ginger, chopped or minced
- 2 cm knob of fresh turmeric, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric.
Make the curry paste by processing the ingredients in a spice grinder until finely ground. Add some liquid if needed to keep the blades turning. In a large wok or saucepan, place the paste, coconut milk, kerisik, salt, sugar, lime leaves, lemon grass and tamarind. Bring it slowly to the boil – it’s important to stir it constantly to stop it from curdling. When it’s boiled, add the meat and simmer uncovered for about an hour. Stir it occasionally from here on in. Rendang is a dry curry so you’re waiting for the liquid to evaporate and the oil to rise to the top. Once this has happened, you lightly fry the curry until those lovely pieces of meat are coated with a thick, dry sauce. The whole process should take about an hour and a half and result in a firm but tender and buttery meat curry. Serve with rice or roti. You’ll never be lonely again…